The Road to Nowhere
Hyperbole perhaps but after the fourth defeat in five games and then a dull, drab draw at home, the future became a little clearer and it seems now that the run of victories before Christmas was just a mirage. Was it all just smoke and mirrors?
Watford had lost their last two home games and conceded seven goals. Burnley stuck two more in and the result seemed like it would be a good one. You must be joking. In a 20 minute spell the game was thrown away and ended in a 3 – 2 defeat.
“I don’t know how we lost that game,” said Eddie Howe after the Watford surrender. Those who were there were quick to answer. An abject second half surrender once Watford scored and the exit of Duff from the back four with another injury was the general consensus. Few players came out of it with any credit.
Before Christmas the mantra that was churned out was “This is a team in transition.” But is it? Or is it a team that is declining and showing its limitations as quickly as it was formed? Is this the foundation of a team that can really push for a top six place next season? Or is it a team that isn’t already in serious need of reinforcements and additions during the coming summer? Is this a philosophy and a strategy that is relying too much on young players and thereby lacks grit, nous and leadership? Losing a game from a 2 – 0 lead was criminal.
But above all, after the four defeats in five games, what questions were being asked? That plus the statistic that there have only been 8 wins in the last 24 home games over the last year. For sure if this was Brian Laws in charge the knives would have been out and the clamour growing for his removal. Have the Board been beguiled by Eddie Howe’s youth and his ‘plan’ that he would construct something based on young, hungry players, fed by a newly refurbished Gawthorpe? Quite simply, nobody is clamouring for Eddie Howe’s removal, because they know he won’t be.
I went in to pay for the season tickets the other day, one of a few jobs I came over to Burnley to catch up on. Ticket sales are slow, said one of the girls. Joyce and Stefan Haluk were in there sorting tickets for the supporters’ club. The Portsmouth weekend had been cancelled because of lack of interest. Just 17 people had booked for the away trip to Ipswich. The season is fading, who can blame people for lack of interest. It’s the way it is fading and the poor displays that is the worrying thing.
The consolation seems to be in the youth team. Is there something happening down there at Gawthorpe that might rekindle former days when talent was churned out on a regular basis for so many years? We sat glued to the message boards for news of the score down at Fulham in the quarter final of the Youth Cup. Already this young team had knocked out two academy sides from Ipswich and West Brom. Surely they couldn’t do this again at a place where Fulham actually paid money to bring in young players from the Continent.
The prize was a two-legged semi-final tie against rivals Blackburn Rovers. There was a crowd of just over 1,000 and many of them were southern based Clarets. The news that filtered back up north was not good after just a few minutes. Fulham were ahead. Oh no we thought, this is it, they’re not going to do it this time. The Premier Club with the Premier Academy will surely be too strong.
But they did.
“Brilliant Burnley” (Those are London Evening Standard words) won 3 – 1. One went in direct from a corner. The third, and clincher, was a run at pace from the halfway line and the ball was slammed home. The scenes in front of the Clarets fans were as ecstatic as long ago at Chelsea when 6,000 of us saw Burnley win on penalties. And now, a semi-final against Blackburn Rovers is the next game.
Those of us who are long in the tooth will remember that pulsating night in ’68 when Steve Kindon ran amok, when Dave Thomas sparkled, when Alan West and Eric Probert pulled the strings and Mick Docherty crunched into anything that moved. It was a foul night of lashing rain and a mud soaked pitch. Me and Mrs T were in the Bob Lord. We shall be there for the semi and who knows the Final? Sometimes there is a symmetry in football and with this the final season of Barry Kilby’s chairmanship; who is to say that fate won’t see to it that he departs on a high with the most unlikely of trophies under his belt.
I wondered how many of this youth team had been signed and tutored during the Overson and Dobson period? It was rather odd the way both left. One day, I suppose, we shall find out why. IF, and I use the word carefully, IF these lads are products of that period, it makes the exit of their mentors, Dobson and Overson that bit more curious.
Prior to the Palace game it was Jason Tindall’s turn to provide the inspirational thoughts of the week. “We won’t give up until it is mathematically possible,” he said predictably. He used the word ‘hopefully’ four times. Well, ‘hopefully’, we thought, the first team might begin to emulate the youth team.
After the Palace game it became even less mathematically possible. What an infuriatingly frustrating performance this was. The day started badly anyway with a two hour drive to Burnley because of delays, the first because of tree felling and huge long queues, and the second for water mains work and another huge long delay.
A first minute penalty should have set the Clarets on their way and so it seemed it would do; for the next 20 minutes Burnley played slick penetrating football that had Palace at sixes and sevens and on the retreat. And then it all just went off the boil as Palace got back into the game and Burnley faded. Even so, with better shooting Burnley could have had all three points. It was woeful and it becomes easier and easier to see how Burnley top the table for shots off target.
You just knew that Palace would equalise as they had more and more of the play and had Grant making more saves in this game than he’s made in the last half dozen. Their equaliser came from another penalty. Zaha supposedly their star player made a run into box sold a few dummies and saw an outstretched leg. Ah ha, he thought I can fall over that. And so he did and earned the softest penalty he’ll get all season.
Even when he was sent off for a peevish kick at Edgar’s ankles as they ran and jostled each other, it made no difference to the, by now, impotent Burnley. Impotent because Rodriguez was absent all second half, because Wallace had achieved so little, because running into blind alleys was now the order of the day, impotent because of all the sideways passing and impotent because of the appalling standard of shooting.
Trippier in the last minutes put a fabulous low cross over that everyone stood and watched. Someone should have buried it. Stanislas put a sublime cross over that someone got on the end of but put it wide. And it got colder and colder and colder. Later on back at home, the news weather slot mentioned temperatures of 18 degrees around The UK. Well it wasn’t bloody 18 degrees at Burnley that’s for sure.
John B’s programme notes made me humph. “Our Plans are taking Root” was the header. There is a 5-year plan apparently and we are at the end of the first 12 months. He seemed to be referring to a financial plan more than anything, to do with running a tight ship despite the recently announced loss of £4million. We have the right mix in our players, he wrote. I would imagine there’s hardly a supporter in the ground who can’t see how wrong that is. It showed again today with not one defender on the bench, and a squad that’s top heavy with forwards, particularly wingers. Would you put money on Burnley being in the Prem or Division One, or still in the Championship struggling but getting by with bits-and-pieces players, in five years’ time?
This was totally frustrating stuff yet again. But, putting it all in perspective was the announcement before the game that Eddie Howe’s mother had died suddenly. There was a collective gasp all round us. The minute’s silence was impeccable. You could almost feel the sense of shock. If he was thinking, ‘so what’, when the result was sent to him; who could blame him. Perhaps the one bright bit of news that might have cheered him up a little was that Ings looked very promising. He was quick, skilful and pacey and possessed what pundits describe as ‘quick feet’.
Consolation for this how-did-we-not-win-that afternoon came from the stopover at the Stubbing Wharf in Hebden Bridge. The more I think about the two chances created in the final five minutes and the shots blazed over the bar before that, the more exasperated I felt. The Stubbing Wharf did what it says on the tin and restored our sagging spirits. Gammon and eggs for me, fish and chips for Mrs T who slid her mushy peas over to me, and then sticky toffee puddings and custard for afters; boy did it all go down a treat And all in front of the roaring fire.
I got to wondering a bit more. I just wondered if this youth team will provide enough young players to save Eddie Howe’s bacon and form the basis of a new team. Will he bring any in? If they’re good enough, they’re old enough. But, if some of them are going to be good ‘uns, will Burnley be able to hang on to them? You can bet your sweet life that once in the semi-finals the big clubs will have their scouts there like locusts.
Mystery of the week was the tweet from Marvin Bartley. “This is becoming a serious problem,” it said. The airwaves hummed with various interpretations. The easiest was to suppose it was a grumble at not being selected again. Or, someone suggested it might simply be a bad case of piles.